Consumers, as a whole, are undergoing a transformational shift in what they value most. Instead of accumulating owned possessions, more often than not customers are opting in to create memories through "renting" experiences. Rather than building their iTunes library, people are happy to subscribe to Spotify for access to tens of thousands of songs for a variety of occasions. As a substitute for buying a new dress for every occasion, women can now rent one from the dream closet of Rent the Runway. The American dream may in fact no longer be a house and a car, but a great AirBnB and Uber on demand.

This is not a new concept, rather one that has been gaining popularity over the past five years. What is new, though, is that traditional retailers are starting to catch on. Companies of all kinds are finally realizing that your experience, whether it be in the dressing room, at the cashier, on the website, or on the phone, greatly influences your purchasing behavior.

Every day consumers are faced with an overwhelming number of choices. And while price and product are still very important differentiators, it is now the customer's experience that truly sets remarkable companies apart from the rest.

Customer Experience Management (CXM) is the process of providing unforgettable experiences to your customers at every touchpoint--online, on the phone, on social, and in person.

Today, this is not optional, even for large complex organizations. It's the future of every business operating in a networked world. Your brand isn't your company. It isn't your marketing message. It isn't even your product.

Your brand is the sum of your customers' experience at every brand touchpoint.

For many companies, this statement is terrifying. Making this transition into the economy of experiences and real-time personalization isn't easy.

Here are five pillars that are essential in integrating customer experience management into your company:

1. Build the Holistic View

Before you provide unforgettable experiences for your customer, you need to have a clear idea of who they are. This means every time a customer interacts with your brand, these interactions are tracked and recorded.

When I walk into a store, I want the salesperson to ask me how the last pair of pants I bought are working out, the dressing room technology to know my size and color preferences, and later, when I call or tweet at the customer care department, the reps to have a history of my previous interactions.

While we're still a ways away from this new ideal, it is important to understand the goal: a holistic view of the customer that allows the brand to improve upon their experience every single time, thus delighting them and bringing them back. This type of interaction requires huge internal coordination across silos and the proper technology infrastructure that is able to connect the entire front office in a way that makes all of this possible.

2. Actually Listen

Once you have a holistic view of your customer, you can truly begin to listen to what they're asking for. Is your brand marketing sneakers when your customers are telling you they want more sandals? Are you still assuming that 24-35 year old female is your target demographic when really you have a huge male following of 45-60 years of age?

Often, there is an incredible disconnect between what brands want to sell their customers and what their customers are asking for. These old push marketing tactics will no longer work. The good news, however, is that customers are now voicing their opinions louder than ever. Social has given companies an incredible insight into the habits, likes, and dislikes of their customers. Your fans are telling you what they want. Listen.

3. Follow Through

Just listening isn't enough, you need to act on it. Time after time, brands monitor social, conduct surveys, and gather intel about their customer, only to push it aside in lieu of the next shiny idea. Follow through on the insights, try new things out, show your customers that you do care.

4. Build a Relationship

Regardless of the medium--social, in store, over the phone--it is essential to communicate with honesty and transparency. Look at owned content as an opportunity to build your brand and invest in the personnel and infrastructure necessary to take it to the next level. Don't be afraid to let your company values shine through and empower your employees to be advocates. With every interaction add value rather than promote your products. Building relationships with consumers isn't any different from building relationships with your friends. Treat them with respect.

5. Adapt and Change

Never stop adapting. Your consumers are savvy and informed. They know about new products before the sales team does, and how to fix bugs before the support team realizes there is a problem. They know about pricing mistakes before the finance team does. They build local communities and influence the perception of your brand and, with that, the purchase intent.

So adapt with your customers. Build relationships with them, listen to them, bring them into your brand, and give them what they're asking for.

Only once you have made these fundamental shifts will you be able to compete in the new age of the experience economy. This Journal of Customer Experience will help you outline your first steps towards becoming a connected, customer-centric company.

Published on: Mar 9, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.